For four years we have asked this question on our mailing list request page: ” You’re about to die, what’s your last meal?”
There are no right answers to this question, just having an answer that you believe in is enough. If you care enough about food and what it provides beyond mere sustenance then you’ve hopefully thought about this question before. You were who we wanted to cook for.
The answers to this question also gave us an idea about who was coming to dinner on any given night. You could infer a lot about what kind of guest you had based on this question. Was this person a traveler? Closely connected to family or ethnic heritage? A hedonist? A showoff? It was interesting information that gave depth to a random list of email addresses.
And for four years as we did more events and earned press, the invite list grew. I was surprised to see that more often than not, the Last Meal field was filled in, often with a level of detail and length that one simply doesn’t expect in simple mailing list requests. It’s not a required field, but the question seemed to hit a nerve. Were people treating this as a badge, much in the way one photographs and shares what the things they eat? Did people think we were using their answers as a screening method? Or were these the kind of people who simply relished in the opportunity to think about the pleasure of a Last Meal? Asking what’s Last Meal worthy is tantamount to asking “what food would give you the greatest amount of pleasure possible?” My thought is that people really enjoy thinking about pleasure, so this question provided them a small chance to do so.
As of December 7, 2010 we had 1,258 last meal answers sitting on our server. And it was entertaining stuff at times. “Lobster dipped in warm butter and fed to me by Barack Obama.” “Swiss chocolate dripped over beautiful women.” “God’s Butter: Bone Marrow.” The volume of the list sort of snuck up on me and reading it all at once was something I hadn’t done before. It seemed obvious after reading through this that we had to do a dinner around these answers. But how? There were 1,258 answers and we had not only the constraints of time (had to fit into a 6-8 course dinner) but it had to flow like a coherent, single menu.
We ended up going through a multitude of approaches before settling on the final one. Lots of blind alley and false starts. But the right approach and menu won, we learned a lot, and also got a kick ass infographic out of it to boot.
Stay tuned for the next post, where I’ll share how we designed a menu from the 1,258 responses.
All photos by David Christiansen.